Something to know—Two humans, Cameron and Rayla, run this blog—you can read more about us if you are interested, but for the meantime, we just want to say this particular post is written from Cameron’s point of view, but we do our writing together, and it is a reflection of both of us.
Finding Pleasure in Pain
So about three months ago, I was at a weirdly fancy event, standing in a buffet line with my brother in law. I had to go pee really bad, but I was also quite hungry and quite close to the front of the line. I decided that in service of my highest net pleasure, I would have to endure the pressures of my bladder and get my food first.
That’s when I realized that I didn’t just have to ‘endure’ the pain-- I could enjoy it.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not talking about enjoying going pee. I love going pee and whether or not most people would phrase it quite like that, I think most people also love going pee. Instead, I am talking about the feeling I get when I really need to pee, but am unable to do so.
In order to gain some pleasure from this unmet need, I started imagining that the feeling of needing to go pee and being unable to do so was some sort of extremely enjoyable experience. Like, what if I took a little pill, just to feel the need to pee; what if that was my vice? Then I started imagining what it would be like to crave that drug, to need that sensation. I could see myself getting done with a long day of work to pop a couple of pee pills, cross my legs, and let the potty dances begin.
The point isn’t that I somehow, on the fly, rewired my physiology in that buffet line to feel pleasure when experiencing something that would otherwise be painful (or at least irritating). Rather, I found a new way to frame my pain, which ended up making the pain more enjoyable than it was painful.
This little game of imagining that something painful is actually full of pleasure can be quite useful. It turned ten minutes of would be pee anxiety into ten minutes of quiet chuckling and a fun conversation.
The broader idea here is to say that it is possible to frame a negative experience that you cannot get out of as an enjoyable one and derive some pleasure from it. This can turn an inevitable negative into something very silly if not genuinely positive
Some people and spiritual practices can be frustrating; they suggest that framing is a cure all for all of life's problems. Sadly, there are many things for which a small change in perception probably won’t be useful. If you have crushing depression or no food to eat or are hated just for being who you are, small changes in perception probably aren’t going to fix anything.
We aren’t suggesting that these tools will turn a bad day into a good one. We are suggesting that these tools can be useful for accepting and laughing at irritations that threaten to turn a good day into a meh day.
There are plenty of days that begin just fine, only to be interrupted by a barrage of irritations that have a sort of snowball effect. Let’s say that, hypothetically speaking, you are washing the cereal out of your bowl and accidentally drop it on the floor where it shatters into a bunch of different pieces. You’re frustrated that you dropped a bowl, but it’s not that big a of a deal. You get all the pieces of ceramic cleaned up, only to realize that you now have only five minutes to get to the bus instead of ten.
You stress run as fast as you can and relive a dozen memories of missing the bus in middle school (once again, completely hypothetical). You make it on time, but now you are super thirsty. You struggle through your unusually messy backpack and realize that in your haste, you forgot your water bottle. Now this isn’t so bad because there is a water cooler at work, but now you’re gonna have to spend the rest of this bus ride thirsty.
Four stops later and the bus goes from half empty to completely full. Being so close to all of these strangers reminds you that you forgot to put on your deodorant before leaving the house and now you smell like a cave person because you ran to the bus instead of being able to walk like usual.
You dive back into the black hole you call a backpack and eventually find your deodorant, but when you start to put it under your shirt you accidentally make eye contact with the dude sitting across the aisle and he is giving you a weird look. You remember all the times people gave you shit for forgetting to put your deodorant on at home and all the sudden you know exactly what that look means. This guy is sitting there, looking down on you because you're some kind of freak for putting deodorant on in public!
At this point, you start having a very confrontational argument with this dude in your head. You’re all like, “fuck you dude, I can put on deodorant wherever the fuck I please! I’m doing all of you a favor!” Which is when you realize that there is nothing wrong with body scents. It is a perfectly natural phenomena! You don’t need to put on deodorant at all! And this fuck job is sitting here trying to oppress you by deciding what you do with your body!
Enough is enough, even though by this point you have already put deodorant in both of your armpits, you are going to make sure that this dude knows exactly why you shouldn’t have to put deodorant on if you don’t want to! Of course, then your stop comes and you get off the bus. You are walking for ten minutes before you realize that you are still having the same argument, with the same dude, still entirely in your head, and you’re all pissed off about it. Now you’re thinking back and realizing that while all of your arguments were very well constructed, you never said any of them out loud, and by this point in time, that guy, the real version, probably has no recollection of you putting on deodorant in the first place.
You notice that it is a beautiful day and there is a rainbow in the distance just as you get to the front doors of your work. You realize that you wasted a beautiful walk engaged in an imaginary argument, and that you won’t be coming back outside for at least four hours. You walk into work feeling absolutely defeated.
None of the irritations that you dealt with were very bad at all, or even necessarily real, but without having a good way to deal with them, they just kept piling up. You are now starting your work day in a terrible mood and there really isn’t any meaningful reason for it. This is precisely the sort of situation where a change in perception might be useful.
Perhaps instead of being down on yourself for having dropped the bowl, you could pretend after the fact that you threw it at the ground purposefully, for an end-of-breakfast dramatic effect. Running to the bus might be more fun if you imagine that it is practice in case you ever need to get away from a velociraptor or volcano or something. And the weird look that guy gave you on the bus could actually mean anything. Might as well imagine that’s just how he looks when he is enjoying the need to go pee.
We are constantly telling ourselves stories about our experiences. Much of our suffering comes from these stories rather than from the experiences themselves. If we can bring these stories into our awareness, we can rewrite them and tell new stories that are far more empowering.
There are an infinite number of ways to use this sort of framing in your daily life. An easy framework for framing (hah) goes a little like this:
The Framing Game
Notice something irritating.
Explore why that thing is irritating.
Once you feel that you understand why that thing is irritating, try and find a reason why that same thing could be enjoyable, even if it is purely hypothetical.
Enjoy this new way of looking at the irritation, or simply enjoy the framing game itself. (We find it is fun to play with friends.)
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Comment or message us with your own re-framing of life’s irritations!